What to do when someone dies

When someone dies, you’ll need to inform the Registrar. Once that’s done, several other organisations and government departments may have to be contacted and given the same information.

If the death occurs in hospital, hospital staff will contact the deceased’s next of kin. This may be a relative or friend. You may, if you wish, ask to see the hospital chaplain. The hospital will keep the body in the hospital mortuary until the executor arranges for it to be taken away. Most funeral directors have a Chapel of Rest in which the deceased will stay while the funeral is arranged. Hospital staff will arrange for the nearest relative to collect the deceased's possessions.

If the death was expected, contact the doctor who looked after the deceased during their final illness. If the doctor can certify the cause of death he or she will give you:

  • a Medical Certificate that shows the cause of death (this is free of charge and will be in a sealed envelope addressed to the registrar).
  • a Formal Notice that states that the doctor has signed the Medical Certificate and tells you how to get the death registered.

If they had a religious faith, you may wish to contact the deceased's minister of religion. Arrangements for the funeral may be made by a funeral director.

If death followed illness from HIV or AIDS there may be special rules about handling the body. The Terrence Higgins Trust can advise on funeral arrangements.

If you discover a body or the death is sudden or unexpected, you should contact the following people:

  • the family doctor (if known)
  • the deceased's nearest relative
  • the deceased's minister of religion (if known)
  • the police, who will help find the people listed above if needed

If there is any reason to suspect that the death was not due to natural causes, don’t touch or remove anything in the room. The death may be referred to the coroner.

If doctors want to know more about the cause of death, they may ask the relatives for permission to carry out a post-mortem examination. 

This is a medical examination of the body which can find out more about the cause of death.

If a post-mortem examination is needed, you should allow plenty of time for this when planning the funeral.

In any of the following circumstances the doctor may report the death to the coroner:

  • an accident or injury
  • an industrial disease
  • death during a surgical operation
  • death before recovery from an anaesthetic
  • if the cause of death is unknown
  • the death was sudden and unexplained

The coroner may be the only person who can certify the cause of death.

The doctor will write on the Formal Notice that the death has been referred to the coroner.

If the doctor treating the deceased had not seen him or her, either after death or within 14 days before death, the death must be reported to the coroner.


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